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Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Not dead, just sleeping

Everyone assumes that voter apathy and low trust in politicians are recent phenomena. A new study of polling evidence by the BBC suggests that this is not so.

In August 1944, after five years of the Second World War and on the verge of final victory, 35% of people told Gallup they thought politicians were just out for themselves.

The real problems are a lack of differentiation between parties and a poverty of ambition among politicians.

The problem could lie with the parties themselves - and the perceived lack of difference between their policies.

In a September 2004 poll for ICM/UKTV Endemol, 81% of respondents said there was no real important difference between the parties and they were all "much of a muchness".
The solution is not a moral panic about apathy. The BBC's head of political research David Cowling observes that,

"Politics in Britain is not dead, just sleeping.

"As Professor Anthony King wrote in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 election: 'Just provide the voters with a closely fought election at which a great deal is at stake and, make no mistake, they will again turn out in their droves'."
Politicians from all three major parties have consciously chosen to make themselves indistinguishable. This is partly due to a fear of the press and an obsession with media management. But it is also a product of a cynical culture that derides all talk of ideals and values as 'purism' and instead regards tactical opportunism as a political virility symbol. As a result, our political discourse has degenerated to the point where most politicians can talk only in terms of administrative efficiency and incremental change.

Gimmicks intended to revive popular interest, such as e-voting, are an irrelevance. Politicians can neither hope nor deserve to overcome popular cynicism unless they make their values explicit.

The problem is perhaps to persuade national political leaders that they could actually gain votes if they were to make radical comments instead of spouting the political equivalent of lift music ... . Original, non-conformist ideas would attract media attention and, if they can be rationally explained, voters too.

A campaign with the slogan 'Time for a real change' with radical policies linked by a coherent, underlying philosophy and with credible explanations which make sense to ordinary voters is long overdue in the UK.
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